We are thrilled to present our new digital exhibit Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery: The Forerunner Generation, by Beatrice J. Adams and Jesse Bayker. This exhibit brings together photographs and brief biographical sketches of all twenty-five African American men who attended Rutgers University before the end of World War II.
The research into their stories began with the chapter “The Rutgers Race Man: Early Black Students at Rutgers College” by Beatrice J. Adams, Shaun Armstead, Shari Cunningham, and Tracey Johnson, in our book Scarlet and Black, Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945, where seven of these men are profiled in more detail. They were “the forerunner generation,” entering an exclusive white men’s school in Jim Crow America before the movement for Civil Rights and desegregation reshaped the university into a more diverse and accessible institution. Paul Robeson, who graduated in 1919 and whose legacy we have celebrated with centennial commemorations in 2019, is the most famous of these early alumni. In the epilogue to the book, Deborah Gray White calls on us to “recover, acknowledge, and celebrate all of the forerunners of desegregation at Rutgers.” The Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery exhibit seeks to answer that call.
If they were daunted by their exceptionalism or exclusion, they did not and could not show it. Rather they competed fiercely, completed their degrees, and many went on to leadership positions in the race and nation.— Deborah Gray White in Scarlet and Black, Volume 2, “Epilogue: The Forerunner Generation”